When clients are considering their proposed visitation/possession schedule or residency restriction, whether they are preparing for negotiation, option building, or requested relief from a Court, there are certain overriding issues they should consider. Clients who are considering something other than standard possession and residency restrictions should begin by thinking about the population increases in Texas, current and ongoing road construction projects, school schedules and extracurricular activities events of their children. 

The Texas Family Code has now made Expanded Standard Possession Schedule (SPO) the presumption for parents living less than 50 miles from each other. Additionally, the use of split time, 50/50 or some other shared visitation schedule, is increasing. The Expanded SPO and the alternative visitation schedules all include school night overnights. The ability to get a child to school at 8:15 a.m. (or earlier) is becoming the main driver for visitation/possession schedule and/or residency restrictions.

Visitation and Residency

Historically, for example, driving from Denton Texas to McKinney Texas was a nice 30-to-40-minute drive in the country. Now, on a Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m. you better pack a lunch and plan on an hour to an hour and a half to make that drive ONE WAY, and that’s on a good day. The old “Denton County and contiguous counties” residency restriction is now often unworkable in practical application. (For those not as familiar with north Texas geography, Denton, Texas, is in Denton County, and McKinney, Texas, is in Collin County. These counties are contiguous.) The populations of North Texas, as well as most of Texas, is expanding rapidly and in some areas even exponentially. TxDOT’s (Texas Department of Transportation’s) efforts to keep up with this expansion is frustratingly behind the curve, and the current construction efforts seem to be never ending. Parents must think differently now when considering this subject.

Parents who are concerned with future job transfers or may have a desire to move to a different location while their children are still under a visitation schedule, will be thinking about what their residency restriction should be. Historically, if one of the parties were to be transferred to Nome, Alaska, for example, the parties would not be surprised to have to deal with that material and substantial change, and that they would have to amend their Suit Affecting Parent Child Relationship Order. But, historically, future job relocation to a neighboring county was not considered a big deal. Likewise, a future move to a bigger house in a different neighborhood due to an increased need for space and/or just having the ability to afford a more expensive house payment was almost always anticipated and also considered no big deal. 

The ramifications of the population increases and the construction resulting from such population increases, particularly in the more metropolitan areas of Texas have rendered many possession schedules and residency restrictions to be unworkable. Nowadays, the time it takes to get from Point A to Point B may be determined more by the time it takes for the drive than the actual distance. Everybody wants the most time they can have with their child. But if that time is 2 hours to and 2 hours back from school, it is very possible that that parent did not contemplate all that time being spent on the road. Unfortunately, for clients who have been divorced for a while, they have possession and residency restriction order, which were made at a time when these significant changes were unforeseeable. 

While the problems eventually become self-evident, the goal of having more time with one’s child has been pursued without fully understanding the practicality of the pursuit. Time and distance, as well as children’s school and extracurricular activities schedules, need to be “gamed out” before agreeing to or requesting a possession schedule or residency restriction. New thinking, or at least more informed thinking, needs to be developed for parents considering options for visitation and residency restrictions in today’s Texas. 

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